Yet another adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s book Carmilla (there have been maybe a dozen movies based at least a bit on the novella). In this case, Hammer Films took advantage of the loosening of censorship standards, replacing the ever-present cleavage of their previous films with actual naked bosoms. The casting of Ingrid Pitt as “Carmilla” was perfect, and helped make her a cult figure for the rest of her life.
Pitt had a fascinating life. Her New York Times obituary began:
Lovely and voluptuous, the actress Ingrid Pitt was given a choice early in her film career: pornography or horror. Ms. Pitt, who had spent her childhood in a Nazi concentration camp, later scoured Europe in search of her vanished father and still later was forced to flee East Germany a step ahead of the police, chose horror. It was a genre she knew first hand.
Later in the same obit, she was described as being “known for her tousled hair, pneumatic figure and sporadically sharp incisors”.
Despite the lure of nudity, The Vampire Lovers isn’t a particularly good Hammer film. It’s sluggish, the vampire material is underplayed, and the sex is, well, sporadically sharp. There is nothing new here, other than the almost-explicit lesbian references. Pitt is excellent at luring women to her, but overall, she lacks the flamboyance of Christopher Lee’s many portrayals of Dracula for Hammer. And the atmosphere, which can save even the lesser vampire movies, is nothing to write home about, either. Of note: this is Jon Finch’s first movie. The next year, he was Polanski’s Macbeth, the year after that he was the lead in Hitchcock’s Frenzy.
I saw this at a drive-in back in the early-1970s, when I was still a teenager, and I remember Pitt’s escapades quite well. But now, I realize the film doesn’t live up to those escapades. Still, this time I saw what is as close to the original as possible ... that early release in the States was apparently censored.
The Vampire Lovers isn’t the worst vampire movie, but it is far from the best. 6/10.